Once upon on a time there was a person.
This person always carried a big bag with them everywhere they went. You could never see this person without the bag.
What is in this bag, you ask?
Well, this person loved to collect things – specifically important things. This person believed that it is important to carry moments in life that made you feel a certain way, to serve as a painful reminder of what should never again be in their life.
So everywhere they went, if they happened to experience something bad or awful or sad, they made sure to put this in their bag, just to make sure never to cross paths with something like that again.
Over the years, this bag filled up and over time, they had to get a bigger bag to accommodate all the moments they’d experienced.
After several decades of living life this way, they had multiple bags for all their bad memories. By this time, they were no longer able to go about their life as they used to because there was too much luggage to take around each time. And slowly, over the days, they chose to simply stay where they were. And the only thing that surrounded them were the contents of these bags. Ironically, the very thing they tried so hard to ensure never to cross paths with again were the only things left.
Annoyed with the story, are you? I was too, writing it.
We’re annoyed because it didn’t have to be this way. The person could have easily realized that there is no benefit from carrying these things around. And somehow the very thing that they tried to avoid found a way to become their reality.
As humans, we are biologically wired to remember the negative experiences. This is what is known as the negativity bias. It’s supposed to help you survive – by not forgetting the times you were challenged so that you are better prepared or cautious next time.
Working in the mental health profession, it is common to come across people struggling with the concept of letting go - of things, people, incidents, memories, etc. In fact, take a minute to reflect on something bothering you currently – there’s a good chance that your life would be better off without holding on to whatever popped into your mind right now. But that’s easier said than done, isn’t it?
If letting go was easy, we’d all be doing it already. It’s not. In fact, it’s quite hard. And over the years, we’ve grown to look up to Gods and gurus to teach us how. We are no Gods or gurus here at Lostalittle, but here’s a few things that can help you understand why it’s better to let go and how to go about doing it.
1. Reframing your thoughts and words:
Stop saying or thinking that this is not going to happen. Many times, people say “I cannot forget about him/her.” “I cannot be happy.” “I cannot forgive them” “I cannot calm down.” Phrasing your thoughts has a big impact on how you perceive your reality. While it’s true that you might not believe that something is possible right now, making absolute statements like the examples mentioned, makes the possibility of it ever happening less likely, simply because you’ve made up your mind about it.
Instead, try reframing them this way: “I am not able to forget about him/her right now.” “I am currently unhappy.” “I am struggling to maintain my cool in this moment.” What this does is, firstly, it’s acknowledging and validating how you think and feel in the present. And secondly, it is emphasizing that this is true only for now. This is reassuring in the sense that – you feel like this right now, and that’s okay. But time is going to pass and you might no longer feel this way, and that too is okay.
2. Expand your life and make it about more things:
If this is something you are consumed by, you’ll notice that most of your life is about this thing that you can’t let go of. It will be a major part of all your conversations and interactions with others. It will keep running in your mind when you are alone. Rethinking or overthinking to the point that this is no longer just a part of the story of your life. Just like the person in our story whose entire life eventually just became a collection of the bad moments.
The only way to move past this is to make your life about more things. Pick up a new skill, catch up with old friends, get that driving license, volunteer, take up gardening maybe! This helps divert your attention and put your mind to good use instead of being hurt or angry or hung up on something that you cannot change or fix.
3. Process – Reflect – Learn – Accept – Let go:
It doesn’t matter what happened because there is no way to go back in time or have a do-over. You being mad or sad or upset about this doesn’t change the fact that it happened. What’s left to deal with is – this happened and what am I going to do about it? It can be difficult to come to terms with this. And it’s alright to be angry and want to fight this. Allow yourself the time and space to process what has happened and how you feel about it.
When you are ready to do more, reflect on what the experience means to you – what went wrong? What’s not okay? Are you sorry about something? Do you feel like you are owed an apology? Do you feel like there’s no closure? There’s so much to think about depending on what your situation is. But what did you learn from all this? Is it making you a bitter person or a better one? How do you go about life making sure this doesn’t happen again? Or if it does, how are you going to handle it?
If you don’t feel like moving past it, ask yourself what are you gaining from holding on to it? And whatever it is, is it more important than your peace of mind?
For some, this might probably still not be convincing enough to make you want to let go. And that’s alright. Letting go is something that can happen only when you are ready to make it happen. You need to decide that you want to put the bag down.
Just remember that whatever you are seeking – be it justice, vengeance, tit-for-tat, closure etc.– none of that is going to give you what you think it’s going to give you. And whatever peace it brings is usually short-lived. More often than not, people are consumed by the negativity and it drives them so hard for so long and when everything is over finally, they no longer know what to do with their lives.
Let your experiences be lessons. And not reasons to build an impenetrable fortress around you. You may be doing so thinking you are keeping the bad out, but it also makes it difficult for the good to enter. Not to mention you are confining yourself in the whole process.
4. You don’t need someone else to gift you closure:
Part of being unable to let go may have to do with not getting the closure you think you need. You might be waiting for an apology or a realization that might never come. Here’s a secret for you – Closure is something you can give yourself. It doesn’t have to come from outside. While reflecting on what you learnt from this whole experience, you can choose to write an ending to this chapter in your life. It doesn’t matter what their story or ending is like because that is not something you can control and you have to learn to not let it bother you. Focus instead on your own story, write a good ending to this chapter. Have a good cry if you feel like it. And turn the page.
Letting go, much like healing, is not a linear process. Meaning, it’s not as simple as step 1 followed by step 2, followed by step 3 … etc. and letting go is achieved! Rather, the whole process can be confusing, painful, and distressing. You might go to sleep feeling like you’ve made progress today but wake up tomorrow feeling like you’ve walked back ten steps. But the idea is once you know how the next step feels like, it doesn’t matter if you take ten or twenty steps backward because you’ll find your way back. It’s now pinned in your personal mental health maps as a location.
A major part of taking care of your mental health is not simply trying to avoid falling down all the time, but rather getting better at picking yourself up after a fall.
Alfred Pennyworth explained this well when he said, “Why do we fall sir? So that we can learn to pick ourselves up.”